The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) slapped sanctions today on Myanmar Pearl Enterprise (MPE), a state-owned pearl producer.
MPE will now be added to OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals List, which means that U.S. companies are forbidden to do business with it, and its U.S. assets will be frozen.
The Biden administration has been steadily increasing sanctions on businesses connected to the Burmese military—including companies that produce its famed rubies and gems—ever since Feb. 1, when the country’s armed forces overthrew its democratically elected government in a widely condemned coup.
OFAC said that this particular company was singled out because it’s state-owned.
MPE “is responsible for oyster fishing and collecting, artificial breeding of oysters, culturing and harvesting pearl, and selling pearl through the Myanmar Pearl Event,” OFAC said in a statement. “MPE also approves licenses for oyster fishing, collecting and sales of oyster shells, and registration of oyster diving vessels and pearl and oyster technicians. Through its regulatory role, MPE is a key generator of government revenue.”
The pearl trade generates approximately $100 million in revenue for Burma, according to Nikkei Asia—far less than it earns from jade (which has also been the subject of U.S. sanctions).
The board of the Cultured Pearl Association of America tells JCK that it “doesn’t feel that the Myanmar situation will impact the U.S. market because there are many reliable sources for South Sea pearls from other countries.”
Burma, which is also called Myanmar, has produced pearls since the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s, when Japanese entrepreneurs moved in, that the business really took off. The country’s first military coup, in 1962, put the breaks on that business, though the recent advent of democratic reforms had sparked something of a comeback.
But now Burmese pearls are joining the country’s gems on America’s do-not-trade list. Earlier this month, OFAC placed sanctions on Myanma Gems Enterprise, which effectively banned most trade in Burmese rubies, jade, and other gems.
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